Commemorating the great in the Islamic manner

Q105 :Is it not an expression of a people's loyalty to the memory of its heroes, whose great deeds are recorded in the annals of history, to erect statues in their honor as a reminder to future generations of their achievements and greatness? People's memories are short, and the passage of time will make them forget the past.


A105 : Islam abhors excessive glorification of people, no matter how "great" they may be, whether they are living or dead. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Do not glorify me in the same manner as the Christians glorify Jesus, son of Mary, but say, He is a slave of Allah and His Messenger." When his companions wanted to stand up to greet him out of respect, he forbade them, saying: "Do not stand up as the Persians do, some people honoring the others." (Reported by Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah). The Prophet warned his followers against praising him excessively after his death, saying: "Do not make of my grave a site for festivals," (Related by Abu Dawood) and he prayed to his Lord "O my Lord, do not let my grave be made into an idol to be worshipped." The believers aspire only to that true immortality which can be bestowed by Allah alone, Who knows the secret and the hidden, Who neither misleads nor forgets. In His register of immortality, there is the name of many a person whose greatness has remained unrecognized by the people. Indeed, the Most High loves those God-fearing and religious souls who remember Him in the secrecy of their hearts and minds by speaking about their good deeds, ideas and achievements. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), the caliphs, the leaders, and imams of Islam were never immortalized in figure or statues. I quote here part of a lecture entitled "Toward a New Understanding of Islam," by Professor Muhammad al-Mubarak, Dean of the College of Shari'ah, University of Damascus, delivered at al-Azhar University. The section quoted here contains an incisive analysis of the whole question of how to perpetuate the memory of the great. Quote : "We are faced with the situation that many new modes, systems and habits which are inconsistent with our correct beliefs and established moral principles have found their way into our social life. Among these is the manner in which Europeans and Americans commemorate their heroes by erecting statues for them. If we examine this matter with an open mind, free of subservience to whatever comes from the West, and reflect our ways of commemorating the lofty achievements of the great, we find the Arabs, in particular, memorialized nothing of their great personages except their noble deeds and good qualities such as fidelity, generosity, and courage. Their manner of perpetuating their memories was to recount tales of their heroes, passing them down from one generation to another, and to compose and recite eulogies in the form of poetry. In this manner, the generosity of Hatim and the bravery of Antarah became proverbial in the days before Islam. When Islam came, it emphasized the meaning underlying this method. It declared that the best of Allah's creation and the last of His Messengers (peace be upon him) was but a mortal man: "Say: Indeed, I am a mortal like you; my Lord inspires me." (18:111) it emphasized that the worth of human beings lies in their deeds and not in their physical forms; it made the Messenger (peace be upon him) an example for all mankind to follow; and it forbade such sanctions and exaggerated respect for men which resembles adoration and which, by implication, signifies the denigration of the rest of mankind. When the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) passed away to meet his Lord, the first caliph drew people's attention to this fact, saying, "If anyone worshipped Muhammad, then (know that) Muhammad is dead, but if anyone worshipped Allah, then Allah is living and does not die." He then recited the words of Allah Ta'ala: "Muhammad is but a messenger; messengers (the like of whom) have passed away before him. If, then, he dies or is killed, will you turn back on your heel?" (3:144) Islam immortalizes the memories of people because of their good and beneficent deeds; the remembrance of them remains in the hearts of Muslims. Thus, the literate and the illiterate, the young and the old, know about the justice of Umar, the firmness and wisdom of Abu Bakr, and the piety and courage of Ali. No statue made of stone was needed to commemorate any of them because their deeds and qualities are inscribed in peoples' hearts. Commemoration by means of erecting statues is in reality a regression to the remote past, a descent from a higher plane; it was the method of the Greeks and Romans which was adopted by Europeans... With respect to their concept of the nature of man and his true worth, they are far inferior to the Muslims, even to the pre-Islamic Arabs, since because of their inability to grasp the true stature of man and his potentialities, they are able only to conceive of great men as gods, and their gods as men incarnate. What we are pointing out is that it does not befit us to imitate this alien practice which is inferior to our own, and we must not deviate from the ruling from the Shari'ah that making statues is haram and is harmful to human psychology and morals." In Islam, when the greatness of some noble soul is recognized by people, its perpetuation for coming generations is not achieved by erecting statues for them. The correct Islamic method of commemoration is to keep their memory alive in the hearts and minds by speaking about their good deeds, ideas and achievements.


Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )